Vehicles

Tesla Mod Can Track License Plates and Faces Near Your Car

tesla mod defcon
Vlad Tchompalov/ Unsplash

There has been quite a bit of news about all the potential thieves the Tesla Sentry Mode managed to deter but there is even more that can be done as far as Tesla’s camera system goes. 

During the Defcon 2019 conference, security researcher Truman Kain introduced the Surveillance Detection Scout, a small computer that can easily fit in the middle console of a Tesla Model S or Model 3 via the dashboard USB port. 

This computer employs the use of all the car’s built-in cameras to track both license plates and faces. If the system notices the same license plate numerous times in its vicinity, it sends an alert to the owner. When it’s parked it will do the same with faces and notice if a certain face appears to be snooping around over a period of time, giving the owner a heads-up in case someone might be staking out the car or even their house. 

The prototype’s software is readily available on GitHub and is capable of capturing and analyzing data from the Tesla cameras on a Nvidia Jetson Xavier mini-computer. 

It turns your Tesla into an AI-powered surveillance station,” Kain said. “It’s meant to be another set of eyes, to help out and tell you it’s seen a license plate following you over multiple days, or even multiple turns of a single trip.”

It uses ALPR Unconstrained, which recognizes license plates and Facenet, which deals with face tracking as well as an open source neural network framework called Darknet.

I’m not doing any cutting-edge AI,” Kain explained. “I’m just applying what’s already freely available, off the shelf.” 

Kain is well-aware the system will raise the alarm as far as privacy concerns go – after all, he works for a security firm himself (Tevora) and defends his creation by saying that it works as a demonstration of the kind of data self-driving cars could collect. 

If a large enough group of Surveillance Detection Scout users would combine their entire license plate data, they could “see everyone across the U.S, thousands of cars on this Surveillance Scout network”. However, Kain is aware “there’s a real ethical issue there” and had left this feature out of the software on purpose. 

While the software can identify the make and model of the cars based on just the license plate info found on FindByPlate.com, he states that it’s actually pretty difficult to link that information to names and that he has no plans to include that sort of feature in the system either way. 

However, he was honest about the fact that his code can be tweaked by someone else. With enough know-how, they could enable data sharing between users. 

It would be trivial for someone to build that in if they have any development experience,” he said. “Is it a slippery slope? Potentially.”

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